The semester is off to a brash start for the university as accusations arise against it. While Penn State is likely tempted to defend itself, it may be in the wrong to do so when it comes to these ongoing lawsuits.
Lawsuits concerning a student claiming bias during his hearing against a professor and James Franklin allegedly having injured football players cleared early challenge Penn State to respond ethically.
An international student, anonymously identified as John Doe, filed a court complaint after he believes he was unfairly treated in a student conduct hearing following a disagreement with law professor Jud Mathews. Doe worked as a research assistant for the professor in summer 2018 and claims he was instructed to fabricate information and sources to save time. Mathews submitted a student misconduct form when Doe ended their working relationship. According to the student, Mathews threw a pen at him and threatened to maim his chances with future employers.
The suit gets even more turbulent as it goes on to reference supposedly private phone calls with CAPS that may have been shared, and anonymous text messages sent to the professor from his own area code.
It is relatively easy for a university with money and lawyers to defend one of their own, but is it the right thing to do? If the student’s claims have any ground, there should be consequences for the professor rather than the student. As someone who should have a clear understanding of laws, a law professor should never falsify information or make up citations to meet a deadline. If Doe had obliged and been caught, he’d have faced expulsion and legal reprimand. It would be unethical for Penn State to side with Mathews if he did tell Doe to edit research.
This is the second lawsuit in recent months brought about by students against Penn State. On August 21, an unnamed student dropped his suit alleging bias in a sexual assault investigation concerning him.
While Penn State has the upper hand in terms of money and power if it chooses to defend Mathews, it will perhaps have a more demanding trial ahead.
Yet another lawsuit was filed on August 23. The Nittany Lions’ former football team doctor, Scott Lynch said Penn State fired him after he blew the whistle on coach James Franklin allegedly interfering with his medical work. No examples were given, but Lynch said Franklin abused his influence and repeatedly urged the early clearance of injured players so they would have more time on the field and off the bench. Penn State refutes Lynch’s accusation that he was fired to avoid a scandal, claiming in a statement that leadership positions were altered “with the best interest of student-athletes in mind.”
If Penn State does have the players’ best interests in mind, it should explore the basis of Lynch’s accusations. A survey released in June by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association confirms some college coaches deem their team doctors irrelevant by using their authority to override medical decisions. The NATA survey found “only half of collegiate-level sports programs follow [the] medical model of care for student athletes” and 19 percent of athletic trainers reported coaches playing athletes who were “medically ineligible for participation.”
Whether Lynch was terminated to avoid publicity or if Penn State truly did want a transition in its athletic program is another ordeal.
These lawsuits are a way for Penn State to show where it stands. The university can take the moral high ground and show it sincerely does prioritize its students, or it can disregard ethics and employ its legal team to wipe its hands clean.